Indiana: From the outside, it’s quiet, unassuming, an inoffensive little state on the way in/out of Chicago. Digging a little deeper, however, leads one to discover an incredibly rich sports history – and no, we’re not just talking about basketball and Peyton Manning here.
Even wilder is this state’s history with gambling and betting games. Did you know, for example, that in the 1930s and 40s, Jeffersonville, Indiana, was America’s second casino gambling capitol? Or that by year 2000, Indiana would go from hosting zero riverboat casinos to having more than any other state? Going down this particular rabbithole leads NFLbets to believe that The Hoosier State’s always been quite the happening place.
Betting in Indiana
The acceptability and legality of gambling has waxed and waned since Indiana gained statehood in 1816. The end result, however, is a healthy industry for state coffers in the 21st century. Those Indiana residents looking to bet on football within state borders certainly will not have to wait long into the 20s for truly legalized, regulated sports betting options.
Naturally, many a tale of riverboat gamblers fleecing the helpless naïfs awaiting passage was born in Indiana, yet legislatively little was written on the practice, and judging by history, law enforcement was fairly apathetic and/or powerless.
Thanks to the majority of Indianans staying a bit more morally lax on betting games than many parts of the U.S., the aforementioned Jeffersonville can to this day credit its survival through the Great Depression and flooding in the 1930s to casino gaming. In the 40s, the town became known throughout the region as “Little Las Vegas.” Following World War II, however, conservative interests and the efforts to rid the nation of organized crime shut down Indiana’s casinos in following the nationwide trend.
Nevertheless, little enterprise was needed to find betting in Indiana in this period of a supposed ban lasting half a century. Sports betting stayed massive in East Chicago and bigger Indiana burgs thanks to the outfit known as “The Big House” run by Chicago-based organized crime. From 1929 through to the final bust in ’50, the Big House did brisk business in its 16 Indiana locations; by its closure, the operation was bringing in an estimated $9 million annually. When the Big House was closed, wagers shifting to another outfit known as the 825 Club. 825 stayed open for business through 1973.
Passage of the federal Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA) of 1988 allowed for Native American-run bingo halls and casinos thereafter. In 2006, the Indiana state legislature opened the way for legal riverboat casinos and since then, three land-based operations have been established. That same year, the state legislature established the Gaming Control Division; perhaps due to the long history of, likesay, betting off the beaten path, this authority reportedly closed down some 12 illegal sportsbook and/or poker operations and had confiscated over 5,300 electronic gambling machines by 2011.
As for daily fantasy football and other DFS, Indiana lawmakers proved well ahead of the curve by enacting progressive law in 2016. See below for more on this.
Football in Indiana
Most football fans will immediately associate the phrase “football in Indiana” with “the Indianapolis Colts.” Fair enough: After all, the landing of an NFL franchise firmly fixed Indianapolis in the public imagination as a major-league town well more so than the play of the usually ignorable Indiana Pacers. Given the state’s long history with sports – professional sports, even – what’s more surprising was that it took an intensely shady move by a crooked businessman to win this status.
To wit: Everyone knows that the first official organized baseball game was played in Cooperstown, New York. The first *professional* baseball game (and thus the first professional contest in any of what are now known as the “big four” of North American sports leagues) was played in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in May 1871. Both Fort Wayne and Indianapolis were home to pro baseball teams for some time thereafter, and the Indianapolis Hoosiers were one of the most successful franchises in the rogue Federal League of 1913-15.
But this is supposed to be about football! And for many (many!) football fans across the US, the epicenter of football is Notre Dame Stadium, home of the Fighting Irish. Nearly ever since the university’s first football game against now-historic rivals Michigan, the Irish have enjoyed success beyond the dreams of most university program’s most delusional fantasies. Going into the 2018 season, Notre Dame has claimed 11 national titles and its player have bagged seven Heisman Trophies to go along with 110 first-team All-America selections; just reading the names of those who made their mark with the Irish reads like a history of football itself.
By no means exhaustive, such a list, beginning with Knute Rockne in the 1910s would then go on to include George Gipp, The Four Horsemen, Curly Lambeau, Frank Leahy, Johnny Lujack, Leon Hart, Art Donovan, Paul Hornung, Ada Parseghian, Jack Snow, Alan Page, Rocky Bleier, Joe Thiesman, Dave Casper, Dan Devine, Ross Browner, Joe Montana, Lou Holtz, Tim Brown, Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, Todd Lyght, Jerome Bettis, Bertrand Berry, Renaldo Wynn, Golden Tate and Brian Kelly.
Back in the professional football world, semipro leagues were popping up in Indiana at right about the same time as Notre Dame began enjoying its initial national prominence in the first decade of the 20th century. The most notable of these was the Hammond Pros. The Pros were founded in 1917 and entered the pre-NFL American Professional Football Association in ’20. The team lost its star WR George Halas to the Decatur Staleys before the season began and ultimately were forced to play all its league games on the road. In seven seasons, the Pros would go just 7-28 – though managed to keep a small-budget club viable for well longer than their Evansville counterpart.
The Evansville Crimson Giants (excellent name) rose from local play as the locally-supplied Evansville Ex-Collegians to join the APFA in 1921. In that first season, the Crimson Giants went 7-3 overall, but just 3-2 against APFA teams due in part to poor attendance which was in turn due in part to poor promotion and shady shenanigans by club management.
Following the 1921 season, the ex-Ex-Collegians attempted to mutiny against their former teammate Frank Fausch to seize control of the team, but to no avail. Of course, Fausch lost half his roster just in time for the ’22 NFL season regardless. The ’Giants went 0-3 in that final season, including a 60-0 drubbing at the hands of the Rock Island Independents, before folding.
Finally, the Muncie Flyers were listed as a travelling team for the 1920 and ’21 seasons of the big league, but went a mere 0-3, not even managing to score a single point in the games.
And so all was quiet on the Indiana football front until Baltimore Colts owner Jim Irsay began whining in the early 1980s about wanting a new stadium for his team. By 1983, Irsay had lined up two NFL-less cities that were ready to welcome his Colts in: Phoenix and Indianapolis – but Baltimore civic leaders had gotten the Maryland state legislature to consider its motion for seizure of the Colts’ stadium under eminent domain law.
Thus, in an act that could not remotely be pulled off today, in March 1984, Irsay literally had his team’s equipment (and presumably whatever infrastructure he could grab) hauled away in 18-wheelers to Indianapolis. Beginning in ’84, the Colts continued in Indianapolis what they’d been doing in Baltimore since ’77, i.e. playing some seriously mediocre football. Through the rookie year of Peyton Manning in 1999, the Colts went a cumulative 91-138 in 15 seasons, plus a 1-3 mark in the playoffs; the best record the team managed in that run was the 9-6 of 1987.
The arrival of Manning changed everything for the franchise as we know, and the 15 seasons after 1999 read as a diametric opposite of the first 15. Blessed with an all-time great at QB and quite possibly some of the greatest offensive lines ever, the Colts enjoyed 13 playoff seasons, two Super Bowl appearances and one Lombardi Trophy. Whether Andrew Luck can continue in the tradition of great Colts quarterbacks is still in question going into 2018, but already Indianapolis can claim NFL glory that some cities with far longer NFL associations can’t.
Betting on Football in Indiana
Given the state’s history with betting games and gambling law, might expect Indiana to be slightly more liberal on the potential sports betting issue in legislative quarters – and one would not be disappointed.
Indiana was the very first state to complete its analysis of the skill/luck ratio in daily fantasy sports games, finding that DFS is indeed a game of skill. Future president/then-Indiana governor Mike Pence signed a law regarding regulation of DFS providers into law in March 2016. The law allows for those over 18 years of age to play DFS online, but such games may not be offered on college or high school sports competitions.
This sounds very promising for the eventual opportunity to bet on football in Indiana. Hopefully, Pence can even push things along on the federal level before his team as president ends in 2021…